In a fit of large family frustration, I wrote something the other day about why I always feel like I’m failing. It’s just true—there is always a reason to feel guilty when you’re raising a bunch of kids. But the opposite is also true!
Pretty much every night I can go to bed thinking about some sweet success of the day. With so many kids, surely somebody is doing well and there was a moment where I knew I was being the mom I was meant to be. Large family moms may have double the reasons to feel like failures, but they may also have double the sweet times. So here’s why that large family mom is strutting around like she owns the place everywhere she goes:
We look like superheroes for just showing up. If you’ve got a bunch of kids, people start mentally lowering the bar. If you just arrive at school with all your children, they will give you grace if your kids forgot their library books. Most people can’t quite comprehend what it takes to get a gaggle of children ready for the day and will look at you with admiration for just doing your normal life. I like to imagine that when the old lady at the grocery store says, “My, you have your hands full!” what she’s really saying is, “I have so much respect for how you’re handling all those children in this grocery store.” Maybe she’s not actually saying that, but in my self-talk I’m just going to keep repeating it.
We have perfected our baby rocking, grape slicing, tantrum calming skills. It took me a long time to figure out just the right sway to calm a baby—not too jerky, but aggressive enough to settle them down. When you’ve had a bunch of kids, you’ve had a bunch of opportunities to learn (especially when your kids are not all biologically related to each other or you and have varying degrees of needs). You stop feeling insecure about how you parent and you start feeling like a boss.
We’ve got a system and we own it. Maybe your little kids don’t need to take a mid afternoon nap. Mine do. And I know the consequences if I don’t. I’m done apologizing for the system that keeps our life sane and our rhythm predictable. It works for us and it keeps this large family running like a well-oiled machine. And in this machine, Mom is the motor.
Teachers love us. We are so thankful for the help of good teachers in investing in our children. We express that thankfulness and work to partner with the teacher instead of looking for flaws. If our kids are being ridiculous, we are not surprised (we live with them, we know) and we support our teachers. Our kids come into school knowing how to share, how to take turns, to look out for smaller people, to respect the system, and to clean up after themselves. (They also know how to be bossy, overly protective of “their” stuff, and major class clowns, but that’s the subject for a different post.)
We are awesome Neighborhood Moms. I’m not super protective of my house anymore. You know, you can’t break something if it’s already broken. It’s already loud in here so if the kids decide to have a neighborhood band, I don’t really care as long as nobody’s napping. I have on several occasions walked into a room to find multiple neighbor kids in my home and none of my own kids there. I legitimately enjoy hanging out with the neighbor kids and I like that they seek me out sometimes.
We can stretch a dollar and make a mean casserole. I get a little bit of a high off of saving money. I can make a thousand different meals with beans, rice and some kind of seasoning. I take pride in making big meals my kids love. I may bring a bag of chips to the church potluck (because I can NOT figure out how to cook and also get kids ready for church), but at my house I am the Master Chef.
We do not panic when somebody pees on the floor. I have cleaned up so many bodily fluids. . . I tried for a long time to think of an analogy to finish this sentence for how I’m like a thing that cleans up bodily fluids, but the truth is NOTHING CLEANS UP AS MANY BODILY FLUIDS as a mom in a large family. There is no analogy for us.
We’ve learned the difference between defiance and childish misbehavior. When I had one kid I thought everything he did was naughty. Now I can pretty clearly tell when a child is being an actual problem and when they’re just having an actual problem. I have rarely heard a mom in a large family say, “He’s just trying to push my buttons.” We’ve figured out that our kids don’t even know we have buttons, they’re just blundering along, being annoying, and we have to figure out how to corral them. This understanding helps us lighten up about irritating behavior because we don’t see it as a predictor of a child’s future chances of incarceration. This helps us feel like we’re good moms with good kids even when they have bad behaviors.
We are master delegators. I can’t possibly do everything. I just can’t. So I’ve figured out how to enlist help as needed. My kids are competent laundry sorters and sandwich makers. My husband is fantastic at handling the bedtime routine. My parents have a great relationship with the kids, as do our trusted babysitters. There are wonderful moments where I realize I am not just parenting a child, I am running a household. As someone with administrative gifts, this feels like success to me.
We have spouses that are our best teammate and supporter. Some days feel like relay parenting and when I’ve got to run out for a meeting, there is no one I’d rather pass the baton to than my husband. Because I can’t do it all myself, I’ve had to learn to trust my husband to be the awesome dad that he is and let myself be pleasantly surprised when things run well without me. We may not get out for date nights often, but we have plenty of encouraging moments as we parent our kids together. Having a partner I trust and value makes me feel like I’m winning at marriage even if it doesn’t look the way the marriage books say it’s supposed to.
Nothing phases us. NOTHING. I have lost the adrenaline response that used to come from hearing a loud crash in the other room. I have lost the rage response that used to accompany defiant disobedience from my kids. Now I just kind of roll with it. And by “it” I mean EVERYTHING. This makes me the kind of mom I wish I could have been from the start. I’m calm, I don’t panic in a crisis and I’ve learned to laugh at myself and my kids even during the tough times. I genuinely enjoy my children about 95% of the time.
We don’t get mad. We get creative. When I started parenting I was a carpenter without any tools. I was shaping children, but when I ran into resistance, I wasn’t sure what to do. Now I’ve got tools on top of tools on top of tools. I can pre teach to just about any situation (because I’ve already dealt with just about any situation), incentivize the behavior I want, and I’ve got tons of ways to handle misbehavior. I don’t have to yell because I’ve got much more effective ways of expressing my displeasure. Like spite brownies. Knowing how to manage my kids and their chaos in ways that effectively help them learn and succeed WITHOUT losing my mind– this is what makes me feel like a successful mom.
The truth is, there isn’t a day that feels like all failure or all success. Parenting a large family is a unique challenge. We’ve got lots of chances to get it wrong, but we’ve also got lots of chances to learn, to grow and to get it right. I’m a better mom now than I was a few kids ago. Not better compared to somebody else, but better compared to who I was back then. Back when I thought I was stressed, but I had no idea what adding a few more kids to the mix would do. You meet your max capacity for stress at some point and just learn how to just keep going.
I’m not a perfect parent, but I’m learning to celebrate the wins of motherhood. I’m proud of the family we’re creating, even during the stressful times. I’m not always going to handle things the way I wish I could, but that’s when I’m thankful we are a family that believes in grace and forgiveness. Being a large family can be tough, but it’s just the kind of challenge I love.
*My best friend has one kid and I think of her any time I write a piece like this. She is a rockstar mom and someone I go to for advice on parenting topics. I hope in celebrating the hard-fought “wins” that large family moms experience, there isn’t any hint of denigrating small family moms. That is NOT my intention and I know many of these strengths can apply to families of all sizes.*